Laptops in every, ah, lap

Via BBC News comes this story, “US school swaps books for bytes.” I think I had a link/discussion about this same Arizona school a few months ago, but it would appear that now things are actually happening at this school.

A couple of interesting quotes; the first one answers the “either computers or books” issue, at least from the point of view of a start-up budget for a high school:

Providing all the pupils with Apple iBooks did not dent the school’s budget as much as might be expected. But part of that is down to the school having been newly built.

The money that was budgeted to buy text books, which was about $500 a student, was spent instead on the laptops.

“Our laptops cost is about $800 per pupil. Our net cost is probably $100 to $200 more than if we had used text books,” he [Calvin Baker, chief superintendent of the Vail School district] says.

By giving all the students a laptop computer, the school has done away with computer laboratories too.

Baker is also quoted in this article as saying that the school is not “book free”– there’s a library, for example– but most of the content students work with in classes are delivered via these laptops.

Putting aside the sort of Sophie’s Choice method of financing these laptops, that last line, that a laptop on every student’s desk (and, since it’s mobile, in every student’s backpack and in every student’s house) has replaced computer labs, is really something that appeals to me. We’ve been experiencing some, ah, “technical challenges” with the support people as of late, which just underscores the ongoing problem an underfunded university like EMU has with technology. I’m not saying that a laptop program would solve everything; in fact, I think you could make a pretty good argument that all a laptop program at the college-level does is shift the burden of who has to pay for and maintain the hardware. But if we went this route, students wouldn’t be in a situation where they were learning how to do something on a computer they aren’t likely to use much, we could have computer labs which had higher-end hardware and software (for example, a multimedia lab), and the tech support people could focus on the keeping these smaller labs and the network running. And I think it would do a lot to help “technlogical literacy” on the whole at EMU.

In a way though, I think the idea that every student will have a laptop is kind of inevitable, plan or no plan, since more and more students are showing up with laptops all on their own. It’s easy to imagine a time four or five years from now where my students ignore the computers in the lab in favor of their own laptops, and that would be fine with me.

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3 Responses to Laptops in every, ah, lap

  1. cbd says:

    My lovely university IT people are not permitting new wireless installations because they are “insecure” and “hard to manage.” So much for laptops.

    We have to get higher screen resolution on laptops. It’s still hard to read a lot off a screen. This semester, in 480, a lot of students aren’t reading, and I think it’s because I’ve eschewed my traditional course pack and instead put all the readings online. Some of the students print things out, some read them online, but not all.

  2. John says:

    I agree with cbd here on the current problem with online readings. I used the Porter, Sullivan, Johnson-Eilola Professional Writing Online one semester thinking my engineering students would accept an electronic textbook, especially since it cost less than half of the print books being used in other courses. They didn’t want to read off screen (I don’t blame them) and they didn’t want to print out our selected readings. What they wanted, and they told me this, was a print textbook. They didn’t know this on the first day of class, but it wasn’t long into the semester before they realized this. We even met in a computer classroom, so they had access to our text in class.

  3. Steven D. Krause says:

    I never think of EMU being ahead of the curve on anything, but I guess we kind of are on the wireless thing. Our ICT is moving ahead pretty aggressively to make the campus wireless for whatever reason, though they are still pretty careful about security issues. For example, there is a login system you have to use each and every time you get on the network, and right now, there’s no printing.

    As for printing or not printing, I think it kind of depends on the class and the context. I’ve been using an “eReserves” system instead of a coursepack for a couple of years, which makes copyrighted materials available online via the library’s reserve desk (only they are available electronically but on reserve), but these are things that students need to print out. The advantage though is that students printing these things out, either at home or at the library, is a lot cheaper than buying a coursepack.

    I understand what John is saying about wanting the book, too. Last year, I taught a course called “Writing for the World Wide Web” and I made students buy the print version of Horton’s and Lynch’s *Web Style Guide.* I have to say it made a big difference to me as a reader since I had always read it previously online. I felt like I understood it quite a bit more on the page.

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